Getting a Little Help With My Grammar

I use Grammarly to check plagiarism online because I want to find out if somebody’s pilfered something from my head before I can use it.

Yes, sometimes I feel as if somebody gets the ideas out before I get a chance.

Seriously, though, if you’re wondering why I wrote that first sentence it’s because I got a nice present from Grammarly for linking to them. But the truth is that I like Grammarly and that’s the only reason I am writing this post. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think the product had value.

I used to teach college, and there were always those papers. “Those papers” came in different forms.

  • There were the well-written papers by people who can’t string two sentences together for a quiz.
  • There were the well-written papers that were definitely not written to fulfill the writing prompt.
  • There were the very awful papers with a big patch of grammatical writing smack in the middle of sentence fragments and misspellings.
  • There were the papers that sounded like a review on Amazon (and were).
  • There was the papers like the one I got from a white female about the experience of a black male from a previous generation (turned out to be Langston Hughes).

You get the idea. They were plagiarized papers.  You know, the ones where I spent a lot more time grading them than the students spent “writing” them.

I wish I’d had Grammarly to use for these papers.  So what do I like it for now that I am no longer teaching? It’s a quick fix that tells me if a piece of writing has grammar issues or if it accidentally cribs somebody without giving credit.  My daughter and I have been working on her acting and music website, and we used Grammarly to help smooth out the text.

I’m not an expert on grammar because my training in teaching English was in reading and analyzing literature and in writing fiction and poetry. And I’m not a grammar snob either, although I have some friends who are (they are the ones who make grammar jokes on Facebook).

My students used to ask me if there was something like “spell check” for grammar. There wasn’t anything that worked well.

But now there is Grammarly.

So I ran the above through Grammarly.  The results were 21 errors and a score of 56 out of 100!  Huh? For an ex-teacher of–wait for it–English?!

I proceeded to use Grammarly the way it is intended: as a little nag that makes you stop and look at a variety of possible errors.  The first few errors were related to the name Grammarly. Because it ends with an -ly it read the word as an adverb. That’s understandable. But it shows that you have to use Grammarly as a guide, not as a model.

Another error was that I began the third sentence with the conjunction “but.” This usage is not proper for formal writing, but hey, this is a blog post, and I like it to be more conversational. Don’t you? But I appreciate the reminder.

Grammarly didn’t like my first sentence because it is wordy. Thanks, Grammarly :).

Now look at the second item in my list.  It reads: “There were the well-written papers that were definitely not written to fulfill the writing prompt.” Grammarly advises me that I do not necessarily need the modifier “definitely.” I sure don’t. But I like it because it adds emphasis. Oops, I just started a sentence with a conjunction again. Actually, I am really glad it pointed out the “definitely” though because I am prone to overusing modifiers.

Overall, a lot of the errors Grammarly found were because I wrote the blog post in a conversational style, using informal grammar. But for more formal purposes, like my daughter’s website or professional writing, these prompts from Grammarly are invaluable.  Also, there are two explanations for each error–a long one and a short one!

WOW, LOOK AT THIS!

But wait. There are different formats to use for reviewing your writing! I was running my blog post through “General.” They also offer Business, Academic, Technical, Creative, and Casual.

I ran the above section of this post through Creative and got only 5 errors, and through Casual I received 4. Most of these were stop-and-consider notices, not true errors.

One caveat . . .

Up above, I wrote this sentence: “There was the papers like the one I got from a white female about the experience of a black male from a previous generation (turned out to be Langston Hughes).”

Do you notice the error? There was  should be There were.  But Grammarly didn’t catch it the first time or the second or the third. Then I isolated the sentence and tried it alone, and Grammarly told me I had zero errors.

Bottom line is this

I really like Grammarly. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. It performs some of the same functions as the WordPress proofreader, but is much more elaborate and specific.  It’s not meant to be used on its own to edit your writing. It’s meant to be your partner in the process. You need some knowledge of English grammar and punctuation to get the most out of the program.

And for some reason running text through the review is almost as addictive as Candy Crush.

Here’s a little image for my grammar snob friends:

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34 Comments

Filed under Editing, Nonfiction, Writing

34 responses to “Getting a Little Help With My Grammar

  1. Brilliant!!!… agree entirely. In Australia many refer to them as “Grammar Nazis” ;-)

  2. Great site – thanks for sharing!!

  3. A site after my own heart. And ‘those papers’- and how they took longer to mark than to ‘write’? One of the things I don’t miss about teaching. Great post!

    • Luanne

      That is precisely how I feel about teaching! I loved prepping for class and working with students, but I didn’t love lectures and hated grading. So much so that I think it started to make me sick when I had too many big stacks to grade.

  4. jeannieunbottled

    Sounds like Grammerly is a great assistant! Another pair of eyes is always helpful to the writer.

  5. That’s great — I’m going to have to check it out. Because in fact, in a chapter I submitted for a textbook about a year ago, I used a sentence drafted by the person who was supposed to co-author it (instead of me) and who outlined the first draft,. I just saw it in another book. Fortunately I modified it slightly, but ouch!

    • Luanne

      Elyse, my goodness, that is kind of terrifying! So glad you modified it, but wow. In this brave new world of the internet, it’s important to check this stuff because otherwise somebody else could do it for you with the worst of intentions!

      • The source is referenced, though. So if I HAD inadvertently plagiarized (is it possible to plagiarize from somebody’s notes?) then I would still be covered. It’s also a well known comment that I have now seen several places. It was just funny that you happened to mention it in a post I read 30 minutes after seeing it again!

        • Luanne

          From Coincidence to Serendipity (my post before last haha–sorry, couldn’t resist!) . . . . I think you can steal information from somebody’s notes for sure. On another note, now you have me sooooooooo curious about the comment. I have the worst case of curiosity (sort of like a disease).

          • Oops. No that was not meant as a comment on blog posts. It’s a comment on side effects of drugs. WAY different! Unless you are into pharmacology blogs …

  6. I’m a copy-editor, and grammar and spelling mistakes jump off the page at me, but this just means that I live in terror of making a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. But (beginning with “but” for emphasis is okay), I always tell my clients, mistakes in email don’t count. Same goes for informal comments on blog posts. (Whew!)

    • Luanne

      I know what you mean, Anneli, about living in terror of making a mistake. In casual writing, I rely a lot on the folksy expressions and syntax of my upbringing. Then when I write formally, I am so scared of making errors. And, yet, reading something full of errors does annoy me. Years ago, my husband and I owned a store and it was difficult to find someone to work in the office with me who paid enough attention to detail. I actually ended up requiring applicants take a test to see if they could pay enough attention to detail to do a good job. The test involved questions such as an address printed four times with one tiny difference in one of them. You wouldn’t believe how many people couldn’t see the difference. I understand a test like that today is illegal (in the U.S.) to give to a job applicant. But it brought me someone who did a good job and stayed with the business.

  7. Luanne, What a fabulous post that makes use of Grammarly while writing about it… how much more poetic could you get than the act of doing what you are writing about while writing about it? I ate up this article before I got out of bed… and I, like you, am a writing instructor whose training was on persuasion and creative writing rather than grammar, so I have moments I still kinda suck at it when not paying attention! I LOVE the different settings you describe Grammarly as having! Our First-Year-Comp Division has it listed on our webpage for students to access… I should point them toward your lovely description as it really SHOWS how it is useful! GREAT WORK! – Renee

    • Luanne

      Hah, thanks, Renee! That’s interesting about your campus listing Grammarly as a student resource. The main thing is that they use it with knowledge and an engaged mind. That is when it will be most helpful.

  8. Sounds like a helpful tool – thanks for the info, Luanne!

  9. I love Grammarly! You’re doing a great service by introducing people to this site. Happy New Year, Luanne!

  10. I have one daughter who is like me adept and fluent in grammar, then I have my oldest gifted daughter who is graceful, artistic and great in math, but horrible in spelling and grammar! I don’t think anyone really understands this genetic anomaly but I believe some are born with it, some need to have some help! I enjoyed this article so much, Luanne. You have a great writing style that is a mix of formal and relaxed, like talking to a great (and you are!) friend! Hugs, Robin

    • Luanne

      I knew that spelling was a special genetic skill that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a good writer. I didn’t realize that grammar was also like that. I think I’ve thought of grammar as coming from lots of reading, but I suppose it can be taught the old-fashioned way, too.

  11. I think your comments about Grammarly are so helpful and also, the funny thing about saying it is “addictive like candy” caught my thoughts! Smiles, Robin

    • Luanne

      Addictive like, alas, Candy Crush. Luckily, I’ve lost some of my taste for Candy Crush and for diet Coke, but not for candy-candy. I found a new one I love: it’s the Lindt’s dark chocolate with sea salt. Yum!!!!!

      • My girlfriend shared some caramels with sea salt covered with dark chocolate and she got a whole container for only $9.99 from Costco. I believe they were called Shearer’s Candies. I loved the salty kernels that added crunch to the sweetness and goodness! Well, this is not very ‘grammarly!’

  12. Interesting Luanne… I often find there’s a discrepancy between American ways of saying things and English usage, quite apart from spelling… I quite often disagree with these computer check programmes… they can’t cope with creative writing !!!

    • Luanne

      There are many differances between American and English punctuation and even spelling, in particular. What I find interesting is how Americans change their own language to suit their tastes. For instance, the spelling “gray” is American, but many Americans think “grey” is prettier, so more and more that spelling is becoming accepted.
      As for Grammarly, what really astonished me was the 5 or 6 different ways of checking grammar. There is a creative setting, and it is the most forgiving of all–allowing for certain types of rule-breaking. Grammarly can’t be used alone, but by a writer with a decent knowledge of grammar and punctuation. And then it’s very helpful!

  13. Your list of plagiarized paper types made me laugh. I’ve seen quite a few of these in just a few years of teaching. How do kids think they can get away with it?

  14. Luanne, a most helpful post. Thank you. I’ve bookmarked it. Happy wishes to you for 2014!

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